Friday, July 29, 2011

Your kind of photography is not my kind of photography

Keith Arnatt, Trouser Word Piece, 1972, black-and-white photograph

I've been feeling a little bit sick of photography lately. I feel that more & more people now are linking art & photography together & assuming that art+photography is somehow the highest level of photography.

'I'm into fine art photography', one exclaimed.
'I see photography is a form of artistic expression', another proclaiming.
'I insist to project artistic value in all my photographs', another declared.

The link between art & photography is so rampantly used that I felt it is being abused. Especially when one's result does not supports one's claim. I occasionally bump into new/old friends who are into photography, especially street photography. I have nothing against street photography, just want to share with you a conversation I had with a friend.

After greeted with this friend & I ask him what he has been busy about lately. Here is his respond,

"I'm on a photography assignment to document the street of Petaling. This documentary assignment will take months to be completed. The visual goals I want to achieve in this mission are, the life, the socialism & the culture of the people on the street. For instance, the images in my streets portfolios are usually contains people doing all sorts of business on street, the candid, the fun, the details & the realistic life there. I would also sometimes record down the landscape & architecture with historic value. I hope my street portfolios will bring more awareness of our social & poverty problems to audience both locally & internationally. Doing this, I feel like I'm doing my fair share of recording a fragment of my city' legacy every time my camera shutter closes. I cover this non-profit documentary project voluntarily".
Wow! I had goosebumps when I heard this. Big & noble project huh!? Big words like social awareness. Influence audience both locally & internationally. A lot of huge words are used & I thought I'll rephrase every sentences into a simpler translation. Here is what I would say literally,

"Recently I've been going to Petaling Street to take photos. I like to take pictures of the people on the street doing their usual business. I'll snap anything & anybody that looks interesting. Pictures like homeless beggars, fruits sellers, garbage overflowing containers, sign boards, very old building(new one cannot). Hope friends who see my Petaling Street photos will like it & get to know Petaling Street a little better. I don't get paid for doing this. It is all for fun & leisure".
My translations not so glamour isn't it? Sound too ordinary, don't you think? Taking pictures = Photography assignment. Non paid job = Non-Profit
volunteer project. How many street shooters you know would literally tell you they did that over a free & bore some weekend?

My example up there is a real encounter. Really. I usually don't go scrutinizing people like that. But it really left me a deep unpleasant impression whenever I meet someone preaching photography bigger than it actually is. There are tons of photographers out there showing strong words more than results. Everyone is quoting famous quotes. Everyone is trying to be different. Everyone is preaching the success formula of photography. Some embraced 'old school' style. Some improvised Film+Photography=ART. Some invented a fusion mixture of HDR+Lomography. Some are waiting & lusting after the next DSLR with 100 megapixels with useable ISO 1,000,000,000. All sounded glamorous & "Pro-like", but result shows another story.

So, what kind photography you are into? Fine art? Modern art? Creative art? Conceptual art?
I think art is a result, not a goal.

My kind of photography is taking pictures.


robin said...

actually your second description sounded like what I have always described, now I know where I went wrong, I should use bigger words such as a "project", "documentary" or the best of all "non-profit". haha, so true, how some people oversell themselves and trying so hard to prove something that they are not.
your writing is very thought provoking. people have been using art too abundantly and randomly as an excuse to cover up their lacking in photography output. to me, I openly admit I am still fresh in photography, still learning and the most important part of all, I enjoy it.

CHUN CHUNG said...

Be 'REAL' first. I've shared your blog post on my FB. Thanks for sharing a 'REAL' opinion.

XuenPhotoz said...

Chun Chung,

Thanks for sharing. Appreciate it.

XuenPhotoz said...


Hahaha! Just my usual ranting. Thanks for being so kind & encouraging.

XuenPhotoz said...

Just for fun. A few more "taboo" words are best used at minimum. Here are a few example for anyone interested to know,

1) Instead of saying I "edit" or "photoshop" my photos, I'll say I "post process" my photos.

2) Instead of saying "going out to take pictures", try saying "documenting a photo essay".

3) Buying new gear = Equipment upgrade

4) I snap the shot I like = Capturing the decisive moment

5) Edit/photoshop colored photos to B&W = Post process thru lightroom

6) No to pixels peeping. Yes to image quality check.

7) If my audience does not understand the meaning of my photos, I'll tell them the photo is abstract art.

8) Tell people how much you love travel photography although the farthest country you went to is S'pore.

9) If my photo's white balance is way off, I'll tell people it is lomography or cross process.

10) No pay jobs/assignments = Going thru the season of waiting & pondering of the future of you photography path

The list can go on & on.

The trick is that we only need to tell people the half truth, and let their imagination/assumption paint the beautiful conclusion for us . If anybody follow my suggestions listed above, anyone who is 1 month old in photography can be seen as 10 years experienced photographer.